Co-parenting during the pandemic

It’s the question I’ve been asked more than any other since the age of social distancing began: how does this affect parenting time with my children?

The answer, as reported in the Chronicle Herald:

While safety precautions must be kept in mind, court orders and agreements for parenting time must be followed by both parents:

Shared parenting can be done safely during the pandemic by following public health guidance, says a Nova Scotia family law expert.

“As long as both parents follow the public health directives they should continue to comply with their parenting orders and agreements,” said Rollie Thompson, a Dalhousie University law professor.

The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang created unnecessary confusion for co-parents on March 31 when he said in his daily briefing that children should remain in one home during the COVID-19 lockdown, Thompson said.

Strang backtracked the next day, acknowledging he was offering a public health perspective and reminded parents to follow court orders and parenting arrangements. He said parents could get advice from a lawyer or Nova Scotia Legal Aid and “if possible and safe to do so … should develop a plan with the understanding that moving about in the community and going from house to house does increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

“I think Dr. Strang should stick to public health and stay away from family law,” said Thompson.

Thompson, an expert in family law, co-wrote the federal government’s Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. He said that the vast majority of co-parents in the province can be counted on to follow the social distancing rules. That includes moving kids from one parent’s home to another.

Thompson’s advice to co-parents and their kids is to follow four instructions during the pandemic:

– continue to comply with parenting orders and agreements;

– comply with public health directives to protect your health;

– when health or other unexpected problems arise, be flexible to do what’s in the best interests of your children;

– and above all, work together and avoid conflict.

[…]

The Nova Scotia Judiciary said that existing court orders around parenting time continue to be in effect during the COVID-19 crisis. Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for the judiciary, said those orders — including those involving custody, access, contact and parenting — could be negotiated as long as all parties involved agree.

Unfortunately, I’ve already been forced to deal with several cases where a parent either believes the COVID-19 pandemic means they can’t allow their child to spend time with the other parent, or where they’re using it as an excuse to deny access.

If this is happening to you, contact your lawyer immediately. If you aren’t yet represented by counsel, Nova Scotia Legal Aid may be of assistance:

Nova Scotia Legal Aid is offering help for parents trying to wade through the confusion. Lawyers will process emergency family matters for people who qualify for legal aid. Free twice-weekly online chats are also being offered on the Nova Scotia Legal Aid website. Lawyers will be manning the online discussions on family law issues. They are scheduled Tuesday and Thursday, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Those who don’t qualify for legal aid can access family summary advice at all courthouses through scheduled telephone appointments.

Divorce trial by combat

Honestly, compared to several family law matters in which I’ve been involved, this would be much less painful:

A Kansas man has asked an Iowa judge to let him engage in a sword fight with his ex-wife and her attorney in a trial by combat that will settle their ongoing legal dispute.

David Ostrom, 40, of Paola, Kansas, said in a 3 January court filing that his former wife, Bridgette Ostrom, 38, of Harlan, Iowa, and her attorney, Matthew Hudson, had “destroyed (him) legally”.

The judge had the power to let the parties “resolve our disputes on the field of battle, legally,” David Ostrom said, adding in his filing that trial by combat “has never been explicitly banned or restricted as a right in these United States”.

He also asked the judge for 12 weeks’ time so he could secure Japanese samurai swords.

The end of “custody” and “access”

Proposed changes to the federal Divorce Act will do away with these often-contentious terms, following the lead of legislation in several provinces:

Bill C-78 passed first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday. It would eliminate terms such as “custody” and “access” and replace them with others such as “parenting orders” and “parenting time.” The bill would amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act.

The legislation also includes relocation guidelines — when divorced parents want to relocate to another jurisdiction, at a remove from the other custodial parent — with a shifting onus depending on the child care arrangements pending the relocation; and, parents may be required to attend a family dispute resolution process.

[…]

What to do in the circumstances of proposed parental relocation has been a controversial issue, but the new guidelines will create a shifting onus.

“If you have primary care of the child, the onus is on the other parent” or the objector, to give reasons for his or her objections to the proposed relocation. However, “if you have equal custody, the onus is on the person relocating,” Epstein says, to justify the relocation. The new legislation would essentially override the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Gordon v. Goertz, he says, “and places front-and-centre the reason for the proposed relocation.”

The bill does not promote joint parenting, however; “I think those who have been clamouring for family law reform for more than 20 years, particularly fathers’ rights groups, which argue for joint custody, are not going to see that in the bill.” Neither the government nor a fair majority of the family law bar support that, and in the United States, he adds, many jurisdictions that had moved toward a presumption of joint custody have since abandoned it.

I’ll have to see how these changes work in practice, but for now I’m with the lawyers quoted by CBC News, who say they’re cautiously optimistic.  Hopefully this will go some way toward reducing conflict between the parties, and speed up what can be a slow and stressful court process.

​Lawrence Pinsky, partner in the Winnipeg firm Taylor McCaffrey and chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s family law section, said the proposed changes represent a significant step forward.

Pinsky penned a letter to Wilson-Raybould in late December 2017 that outlined the concerns of the CBA’s family lawyers.

“They’re either addressed or there was a solid attempt made to address them,” said Pinsky. “It may be that if I had the pen and was writing the legislation, I might have done it slightly different in certain respects. But they did address many of the changes we called for and we’re pleased with … those changes overall.”

The proposed changes fall into six main areas:

  • 1) ​Replace terms such as “custody” and “access” with words like “parenting orders” and “parenting time,” to make the language less adversarial.
  • 2) Set out criteria that help define the best interests of the child.
  • 3) Compel lawyers and paralegals to encourage clients to use family-dispute resolution services such as mediation instead of courts.
  • 4) Give courts measures to address family violence.
  • 5) Establish guidelines for when one parent wants to relocate with a child.
  • 6) Make it easier for people to collect support payments.

Hilary Linton, a Toronto family lawyer now practising full time as a mediator and arbitrator, said the bill “is bringing divorce law in Canada up to speed with what’s already happening under provincial law.”

For example, Linton said, lawyers in Ontario have turned to the Children’s Law Reform Act for guidance on establishing the best interests of the child because the federal act doesn’t provide it.

“The Divorce Act has now become a very articulate and even eloquent piece of legislation that’s written for the people to whom it applies. I love it because it’s written in plain English, and it’s really — as mediators — codifying what we’ve been doing all along.”

[…]

The act stopped short of establishing a presumption of equal shared parenting between parents, which — although more common than ever — is not established as a starting point. Fathers’ rights organizations like the Canadian Association for Equality say the bill doesn’t go far enough.

Brian Ludmer, a Toronto lawyer and spokesperson for CAFE, said establishing an assumption of equal shared parenting would alleviate the “divorce war” mentality that often pits parents against each other.

But ​Pinsky, of the Canadian Bar Association, said establishing that presumption is not appropriate in a system that centres on the needs of the child.

“We in the CBA say that you start in the position of the individual child, because there’s not a one-size-fits-all. Different children have different temperaments, and some can handle situations that other children can’t.

 

Putting the “dead” in “deadbeat”

An Indiana man who left his family, moved across the country and started a new life with a dead man’s stolen identity has been ordered to pay almost $2 million in unpaid child support:

Linda Iseler said her ex-husband, Richard Hoagland, called her at work on Feb. 10, 1993, to say he was leaving her. She then raced to get the couple’s 6-year-old son, Douglas, at day care before returning to the family’s five-bedroom home in Fishers, where their 9-year-old son, Matthew, was already home alone, the Indianapolis Star reports.

“I can’t live this way anymore,” Hoagland told Iseler, she recalled in a journal. “I feel you would be better off without me.”

Later that evening, Hoagland sealed the family’s fate for good, telling Iseler: “I don’t want to go to jail. I’m never coming back.”

Hoagland cruelly and inexplicably kept his word, eventually remarrying and fathering another son using the name of a dead man whose identity he stole in Florida. But the family’s decades-long quest for answers and justice came to an end on May 14 when a judge ordered Hoagland to pay $1.86 million in back child support, including the maximum allowable annual interest of 18 percent.

[…]

In 2016, Hoagland’s web of deceit collapsed in Zephyrhills, where he was living as Symanksy until he met a police detective in his driveway.

“He told me he was Terry Symanksy,” Pasco County Sheriff’s Office Detective Anthony Cardillo told the newspaper in 2016. “He showed me his driver’s license and gave me the Social Security number for Terry Symansky. Then I showed him the death certificate.”

Hoagland later admitted to living as Symansky and remarrying. He also fathered another son, who was 19 at the time of his father’s arrest. Along with his new wife, Hoagland bought property in Florida and obtained a private pilot’s license. He also owned an airplane, according to the newspaper.

Football and Family Law

A Pittsburgh couple are battling in family court over whether their teenaged son should be allowed to play high school football:

A father, John Orsini, has gone to court to prevent the youngest of his three sons from playing high school football because, he said, scientific studies have revealed the perils of repeated blows to the head — especially for an athlete, like his son, who has a history of concussions. The boy’s mother, Mr. Orsini’s ex-wife, believes he should be allowed to continue playing because he understands the risks.

“You always heard it sometimes, when one parent would say I don’t want him doing that because he might get hurt,” said Allan E. Mayefsky, a leading divorce lawyer and the former president of the New York chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “Usually, we thought the parent was just overprotective. Now, it’s more of a real medical issue.”

In the decade since scientists began to link football to long-term brain damage, the debate over the future of the sport has moved from research laboratories to the halls of Congress, to locker rooms and owners’ suites. Families, too, have grappled with the question of how dangerous the game is — and now parents’ concerns are surfacing in legal battles between divorced couples, leading to an increase in fights over whether to amend custody orders to prevent their children from playing the game.

The 50% divorce myth

Everyone “knows” half of all American marriages end in divorce, and that was indeed the case in the 1970s and 1980s.  But it isn’t true today:

Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot).

There are many reasons for the drop in divorce, including later marriages, birth control and the rise of so-called love marriages. These same forces have helped reduce the divorce rate in parts of Europe, too. Much of the trend has to do with changing gender roles — whom the feminist revolution helped and whom it left behind.

“Two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women,” said William Doherty, a marriage therapist and professor of family social science at University of Minnesota, “so when you’re talking about changes in divorce rates, in many ways you’re talking about changes in women’s expectations.”

[…]

The delay in marriage is part of the story, allowing people more time to understand what they want in a partner and to find one. The median age for marriage in 1890 was 26 for men and 22 for women. By the 1950s, it had dropped to 23 for men and 20 for women. In 2004, it climbed to 27 for men and 26 for women.

Perhaps surprisingly, more permissive attitudes may also play a role. The fact that most people live together before marrying means that more ill-fated relationships end in breakups instead of divorce. And the growing acceptance of single-parent families has reduced the number of shotgun marriages, which were never the most stable of unions, notes Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College and author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

Crime doesn’t pay. Criminals do.

So your income went down after you were convicted of a criminal offence, and now you can’t pay child support?  Too bad:

When it comes to paying child support, courts won’t sympathize with parents who are the authors of their own financial demise through criminal activity, a family court judge recently ruled this month.

In Rogers v. Rogers, Superior Court Justice Alex Pazaratz found an Ontario father who lost his well-paying job due to criminal convictions couldn’t use his reduced income as an excuse to stop paying child support.

The father, Scott Rogers, “is intentionally under-employed. His intentional behaviour caused him to lose employment and limit his opportunities to find replacement employment,” wrote Pazaratz.

Rogers drove without a licence for 10 years and was convicted of driving while suspended 12 times, according to the ruling. He kept driving after each conviction until “it all caught up with him” in February 2011, wrote Pazaratz. The court sent him to jail for eight months, the judge noted.

Rogers’ employer refused to take him back after he got out of jail, forcing him to take up another job that pays far less than his previous income of $74,500. Rogers also accumulated convictions for uttering threats and harassing his ex-wife.

According to the judge, the father “made conscious decisions to do things — illegal things — with the full knowledge that his reckless and anti-social behaviour would make him unavailable (let alone, unacceptable) for employment. The net result is the same as if he’d handed in his resignation.”

The father of two had gone to court with an application to stop paying child support once his income plummeted to an expected $33,000 in 2013. But Pazaratz said his children and ex-wife shouldn’t have to pay for his bad decisions.

[…]

The Ontario Court of Justice decided similarly in Costello v. Costello. In that case, a father sought reduced support for his two children after losing his job following run-ins with the law.

Toronto family lawyer Bill Rogers calls the decision a “really good reminder” for both family lawyers and litigants of how the courts treat parents who lose their jobs through their own actions. “It’s basically like quitting your job,” he says.

According to Pazaratz, the definition of intentional doesn’t require establishing that the father lost his job just so he could stop paying child support. “There is no requirement of bad faith or need to find a specific intent to evade child support. Rather, as the objectives of the child support guidelines state, parents have a joint and ongoing obligation to support their children. Imputing income is one method which courts can use to give effect to this obligation.”

He added: “The expectations placed on the applicant were not terribly onerous: Obey the law. Support your children. It would be counter to public policy to allow the applicant to deliberately breach the first obligation and then use his own misconduct to avoid the second.”

Where is Andy’s Dad?

Heavy, dude:

Between all the fun characters, the magical nature of the toys, and burning questions like “What is the sex like between Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head?” it’s easy to forget that there are human characters in this movie. Namely, the toys’ owner, Andy; his little sister, Molly; their mom; and … wait a minute, where’s the dad? This theory by Jess Nevins explains his absence by claiming that, while Buzz Lightyear and Woody are having wacky adventures, Andy’s parents are getting a divorce.

Each Toy Story movie covers a milestone in the life of Andy: his 10th birthday, the first time he goes to summer camp, and the day he leaves for college. And for all of these important events, Andy’s father is always absent, with no explanation. Also, look at Andy’s house: There are photos of Andy, his mom, and his sister, but no dad in sight.

Then there’s the fact that in the first movie, we see the hand of Andy’s mom as she’s bringing over his present. Guess what: There’s no wedding ring.

If Andy’s dad just happened to be on a business trip or was, like, standing in the other room the whole time, you’d still probably see some evidence of his existence. Obviously there could be many, many explanations for this, but it seems likely that either Andy’s parents broke up in a bitter divorce or his dad up and left the family at some point after Molly was conceived (which wasn’t that long before the first movie, since she’s a baby). If the father left recently, this would also explain why the family is moving to a smaller house in the first movie: It’s all they can afford on one salary.

It’s amazing (and kind of depressing) how many animated movies have no fathers in them.  (And even in those that do, it rarely ends well for him.)

The rise of “gray divorce”

Sociologist Susan L. Brown, in the L.A. Times, examines the reasons for the increasing number of older Americans (and Canadians, if my practice is representative) choosing to end their marriages:

Until recently, it would have been fair to say that older people simply did not get divorced. Fewer than 10% of those who got divorced in 1990 were ages 50 or older. Today, 1 in 4 people getting divorced is in this age group.

It turns out that those high-profile breakups of Tipper and Al Gore, and Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, were part of a trend. Baby boomers, who drove the huge increase in divorce that began during the 1970s and persisted through the early 1980s, are at it again. Just as they have transformed other arenas of U.S. social life, boomers are now reshaping the contours of divorce.

The rise in “gray divorce” is a product of dramatic changes in the meaning of marriage in America over the last half-century. Today, we live in an era of individualized marriage, in which those who wed have high expectations for marital success. Americans expect marriage to provide them not simply with stability and security but also with self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction. Roles are flexible; the traditional breadwinner-homemaker model is no longer the status quo. Good spouses engage in open communication and are best friends. This is a high bar for many to achieve, let alone maintain over decades while juggling work and child-rearing.

If a marriage is not achieving these goals, then divorce is an acceptable solution, according to most Americans. As Ann Landers famously advised those considering divorce, simply answer the question, “Are you better off with or without your spouse?”

[…]

The more complex marital biographies of many boomers thus have enduring consequences, potentially placing them at heightened risk of a later-life divorce. Another factor in the growing rate of late-life divorces includes an increased tendency of couples to reassess their unions at life turning points, such as an empty nest or retirement. Lengthening life expectancies can play a role too. Men and women who are 65 can expect to live 20 more years, a long time to spend with someone you may not like so much anymore.

The consequences of this gray divorce revolution are largely unknown. Because relatively few older adults divorced in the past, there is little research on the implications of later-life divorce for the well-being of individuals, their families and society at large.

Divorce gets ugly

No comment:

When Feng’s wife gave birth to a girl, he was convinced it could not be his as he believed their daughter would be as beautiful as her mother, so he concluded his wife must have been unfaithful. He insisted she tell him who the father was.

When a DNA test proved that the baby was his, the wife confessed she was originally rather ugly, but had spent $100,000 (P4 million) on cosmetic plastic surgery in South Korea before they were married. Feng filed for divorce citing “false pretenses.”

Unverified photos circulating in China do show a marked improvement in looks after the women went under the knife. Interestingly, no one has been able to track down a photograph of Feng himself. A pity as we could judge for ourselves if he really is the Mr. Oh So Good-Looking he thinks he is.

After the divorce, he then sued his ex-wife. He argued that she had conned him into thinking she was a beautiful woman.  It’s clearly a man’s world in China. Amazingly, the judge agreed with Feng’s argument and ordered his ex-wife to hand over $120,000 (P4.9 million) in compensation.

“I married my wife out of love, but as soon as we had our first daughter, we began having marital issues,” said Feng. “Our daughter was incredibly ugly, to the point where it horrified me.”